ALASTAIR and Gloria Patterson are successful siblings on the pipe band scene - both are Drum Majors who have had successes at major championship levels.
Forty-year-old Alastair and his 37-year-old sister Gloria were brought up in Castlederg and got involved in pipe bands as youngsters.
A quantity surveyor by profession, Alastair officially retired from active membership with the world famous Field Marshal Montgomery band just last year, whilst Gloria has been an adjudicator in competitions for four years. Alastair is also a full time Drum Major adjudicator.
The pair tell us more about their successes and passion for the piping world.
“My pipe band career started at the age of nine, when my late father John took me along to Gortaclare Pipoe Band, outside Omagh. My late father was a police officer in Omagh, and one of his work colleagues, Billy Moore, was a Drum Major with a band, and through discussions him, I went along to band practice, showed good natural skill and Billy said, ‘no problem, we will have to get him a kilt sorted.’
“I do feel I always wanted to be a Drum Major. I enjoyed marching, I had natural ability and for the years before I started I was always in the garden and on the lane marching and flourishing, though in those early days it might not always have been in as regimental a manner, it was more a short brush shaft with a tennis ball taped to the top and well decorated with red, white and blue tape - more in line with a flute band! But I still feel that’s where I gained some of my ability to throw my mace high and more importantly, learn how to catch it!
“I think it was in 1980 my mum and dad made the family outing to Portrush to take in the North West Pipe Band competition. I can still remember watching the Drum Majors and really wanting to be able to do that! That same day my mum and dad bought me a kids’ Drum Major’s mace, and little did anyone think then that a few years later I to would be a competing Drum Major.
“After my first year of pipe band competitions my father took me during the closed season to the late Drum Major Cecil Shaw’s class in Carryduff.It is Cecil who had the biggest influence on my Drum Majoring career. Once the basic skills were developed then the real hard work and practice was down to me, and because I really wanted to achieve success I practised long and hard, it could have been four to five times per week. Each session could have been anything from 10 minutes to a couple of hours.
“In the early days, what I enjoyed was being on parade in front of the band and showing off the skills I had developed, then it developed into the taking part in competitions throughout Northern Ireland and Scotland, and I guess to this day it is still about showing off those skills to the viewing public, which was demonstrated recently when I was part of the first ever Belfast Tattoo.
“The enjoyment was further developed when I got to train my wee sister Gloria on the skills of Drum Majoring. Further enjoyment naturally did come with achieving success in competitions, winning prizes and World Titles. I would be the first to admit that the first few years were difficult, there was a lot of hard work put in with very little rewards, in those early days there were only prizes awarded to the top three and it wasn’t until 1985 that I made that for the first time, nor was it until 1988 that I made my breakthrough into the prizes at the World Championships.
“I suppose one of the most difficult elements was executing my throws the way they needed to be. The one thing that is always guaranteed is if you throw your mace into the air, it always comes down – but the real skill is ensuring that it goes up and comes down into your hand whilst you maintain your step, your deportment and make it looking effortless. Over the years I achieved a lot of success, but for any competitor in any walk of life the measure of success is wining the top prizes, and for anyone in the pipe band world, the top prize is winning a World Title; for me that personal achievement was realised in 1991 in the Juvenile Grade and then in the Senior Grade in 1998, 2002 and 2006 - a level of success I am extremely proud off.
“The first World Title was achieved in 1991 and is one which sticks proudly with me, but it was a win that came with very mixed emotions for the entire family, as it was sadly on January 22 that my father lost his battle with cancer at the age of 49. That World Title was proudly won in his name that day! Furthermore, his pride would have been further extended when my wee sister won her World Title in 1993.
“My first World Title in the Senior Grade was achieved on August 15 1998, and once again it was a day of mixed emotions, as it was also the day of the Omagh bombing, when a lot of people from our area of West Tyrone were murdered and seriously injured. I can remember that evening, after winning a World Title, there were no celebrations, all we did was watch the news, and try to get in contact with my other two sisters at home, and family who could have been in Omagh that day. That day the pipe band world didn’t go untouched either, for my former band colleagues from Eden, with the McCombe family losing a beautiful wife and mother, namely Ann McCombe.
“Moving into the role of adjudication was to my mind, a natural progression. I had achieved great success on the park and I simply wanted to give something back to the RSPBA, and it was in early 2000 that I achieved my Adjudicator status and commenced judging at minor competitions.”
Gloria, who now lives in Belfast, says: “In the past I have Drum Majored with Eden Pipe Band from Omagh, Quinn Memorial Pipe Band from Killygullib and Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band.
“Pipe bands have been in our family history, and it was watching my brother Alastair that made me want to become a Drum Major.
“I remember in my childhood days I used to walk alongside or behind him when he was practising with just a stick and he obviously could see some potential and took in hand to teach me, and bought me my first mace. He had me practising whenever I could, most evenings we were out for about an hour, then he started up a Drum Majors’ class in Castlederg were he taught up to 25 - 30 drum majors at a time.
“Being involved in the piping world as a Drum Major is all about the family orientation and the friends you make, your summers are pretty much taken up every Saturday, with having a competition to travel to at home and across the waters in Scotland.
“As you get older in life the most difficult thing about it is finding the time to give it your full commitment, but with having the love and passion for the piping world you always seem to make the time, it’s just in your blood.
“In terms of the skills you need to be a Drum Major, they are broken down into three separate categories: Dress, Marching and Deportment, and Flourish. Your Dress has to be worn in a specific manner.
“The Marching and Deportment gets broken down again into Marching, Deportment, Foot Drill and Mace Drill, and the Flourish section is broken down into Quality, Degree of Difficulty and Variety.
“I was World Champion Juvenile Drum Major in 2003 and have had various other placings in local competitions throughout my time as a competitor.
“To win a World title in any hobby you are a competitor in is an honour in itself, it is the pinnacle height you want to achieve; it brings great pride to yourself and your family, and it proves all your hard work and dedication to practising has finally paid off.
“I have been an adjudicator now for four years and I consider myself as a fair judge. As adjudicators, we have to make ourselves available for at least six minor competitions and three major competitions in the year, and last year I judged at four local competitions in Northern Ireland - Carrickfergus, Lurgan, Londonderry (All Ireland competition), and Newtownards (Ulster Competition). I also adjudicated at one major competition in Dunbarton (the Scottish Championships).
“Pipe bands have been a major part of my life now for 25 years. I was secretary for the Mid-Ulster Section of the RSPBANI for 12 years and have just stood down from this position last year.
“I also helped organise and run the local Pipe Band Competition in Cookstown, and to see all your hard work and effort coming together on the day and watch the pipe bands and Drum Majors compete and win prizes seems to make all your hard work effortless, especially when you see the tartan spectacular come together on the day.
“I’m sure you can imagine that once it’s in the blood, it plays a major part in your life, especially the summer months.”